Freshmen filled with nervous excitement are moving onto campuses across the nation. Ready to make new friends and take that important first step toward independence, the first few weeks can shape students’ overall impressions. From summer welcome to the support services available to students during the first couple weeks of school, what happens now can make a difference in how students rate their college experience, help them form deeper connections to their campuses and more importantly—stick around. In fact, a recent study by the Journal of Vocational Behavior showed that students who felt a connection with their school early on were more likely to fit in, feel like their skills meet academic demands and stay enrolled in school.
Welcome freshmen to campus with these four strategic ideas designed especially for Generation Z students:
1 Make it clear when it is time for parents to go home
Hyper-involved parents are invested in their child’s success, but they can also hinder a student’s ability to develop the autonomy he/she needs. That’s why many schools have developed cues within their welcome programs to help remind parents that it is time to let their college freshman take the reins.
Whether developing a separate parent program during orientation, holding a formal departure ceremony or explicitly stating in their move-in schedule when it is time for last goodbyes, schools are helping incoming freshmen take their first steps toward independence. “A good deal of it has to do with the evolution of over involvement in our students’ lives,” Houston Dougharty, vice president of student affairs at Grinnell College told the New York Times. “These are the baby-on-board parents, highly invested in their students’ success. They do a lot of living vicariously, and this is one manifestation of that.”
2 Adapt to Generation Z expectations
This digitally native generation is different from their millennial counterparts in several ways. Gen Z students are more independent, but they also value face-to-face interaction. They are practical and financially driven, but social impact and personal fulfillment is highly important to them.
Information has always been easy to access for this demographic. Whether trying to find a nearby restaurant, researching a purchase or even navigating their way around a comic book convention, apps have always been available to direct them. This expectation has prompted schools to adapt how they present the services they offer to students. Rather than fighting student use of technology, Ohio State University embraces it by giving incoming freshmen an iPad and creating iPad required courses. In addition, they are also developing an app for students that covers everything from bus routes to grades, schedules and ways to get involved on campus.
3 Offer a personalized experience
Technology makes personalization easier than ever before. Online, nearly everything students encounter is personalized for them. YouTube offers video recommendations based on what they view, the ads they encounter are eerily reminiscent of the conversations they have, and eCommerce sites often make recommendations based on previous purchases and what other similar shoppers bought.
However, one thing they don’t get online is face-to-face interaction. While Gen Z wants and expects easy access to information, they also value in-person guidance. “They want authenticity and transparency,” Corey Seemiller, professor at Wright State University and co-author of “Generation Z Goes to College,” told the New York Times. “They like the idea of human beings being behind things.
”One way to offer incoming freshmen personalized face-to-face interaction is with VIP shopping nights in the campus bookstore. Purchasing textbooks can be confusing for students who were used to having their textbooks provided for them before entering college. In fact, 72 percent of students think it’s “‘very to extremely important” to have someone available to help when searching for textbooks. VIP events can make getting to know the campus store, meeting new friends and selecting textbooks a fun experience rather than stressful undertaking.
4 Find the right channel of communication
Students are constantly connected to social media, but don’t rule out email. Students still respond to messages that are tailored to them, filled with helpful information they need, exclusive discounts and tied to milestone topics that will help them prepare for college. Understanding and reaching out to students in their preferred method of communication can help schools form a stronger connection with students.
Social media will never fully replace email, but it can be a great tool in giving colleges, administration or faculty the authentic voice that Gen Z responds to and craves. The first step is to understand where students spend their time. Gen Z’s preferred social network is YouTube, but Snapchat and Instagram are also popular choices. Next, find the right tone and brand for your campus voice. Trying too hard to sound like students will backfire, but stiff, overly formal communication will also fail to connect. Finally, have fun and come up with inventive and unexpected ways to integrate social media into campus life. When welcoming freshmen to campus, schools should initiate some campus hashtags and social media campaigns to start connecting with students the moment they arrive on campus.